In the world of Hollywood and celebrities, known mostly for its glamorous lifestyles and big dreamers, there exists a segregated underworld, a subculture where dreams are rarely realized and whose contributions go unappreciated. EXTRA: In the Background of a Dream offers the first true glimpse of the most common Hollywood experience, documenting the plight of movie “extras”, or as they’re known in the business, “background artists”. Through numerous hours of interviewing and observing on sets, including Little Nicki, 13 Days, The Beach Boys (TV), V.I.P. (TV), and a national commercial, EXTRA: In the Background of a Dream is a raw examination of the extra’s world of hope and disillusionment.
Ask anyone in Hollywood about their experience with background artists and you will get a variety of answers, but one view is virtually unanimous: extras occupy the bottom rung of the production ladder on a movie set. Segregated from the moment they arrive on the set, background artists endure a variety of demoralizing practices from being isolated in what is usually a cramped area with poor ventilation called “extras holding”, being sent to the back of the food line at meal breaks for cold and often stale leftovers, to being herded around like cattle when there is space to fill – and always bearing the brunt of cruel jokes. Often referred to as “props that eat”, “seagulls” for the way they storm upon craft services, and “atmosphere”, extras often stick together, developing interesting relationships and forging uncommon bonds. Coming together from all walks of life, EXTRA: In the Background of a Dream takes an unblinking look at the entertainment industry’s unsung heroes and shows what it really means to access Hollywood.
Taking a behind-the-scenes look at two families immersed in “background” life, EXTRA: In the Background of a Dream focuses on:
Catfish Bates, a responsible, proud extra supported and respected by his loving wife Helen. Eking a living off an extra’s meager pay, Catfish and Helen is a story of a couple united in their commitment to each other and chasing the Hollywood dream.
Patty Reed and her two daughters exist on a combined income of $6,000 a year and are haunted by dreams of Hollywood. Fourth-generation extras, the Reeds dream of stardom, but are split by their motivations for persevering against overwhelming odds to succeed.
EXTRA: In the Background of a Dream is filled with one-of-a-kind characters filled with dreams of fame and fortune, all struggling for work, recognition, and burdened with the stark realities of an unforgiving industry. Documenting lives facing extreme adversity, EXTRA takes the audience through heartache, laughter, disappointments, and success... with an appreciation for the people audiences see, but never notice.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
TOPHER STRAUS graduated from Syracuse University’s Shaffer College of Visual and Performing Arts in 1997. Soon after college, his internship kicked in and he need to find a job that would allow meetings and extreme flexibility; he choose extra work. He soon observed the eccentric and complexity of the world.
He and his producer KATE ATKINSON decided to do the documentary, and with only a digital camera (XL1) and an Apple Computer, the momentum started. Sometimes planning their shoots and sometimes driving looking for a set to crash.
Four months later, after traveling from one coast to another, they felt like they had enough material. Straus, working out of Denver on a “proactive documentary” about the tragedy at Columbine High School, would fly stand by and have Katie pick him up to film. They worked out of the office, which doubled as Straus’s bedroom. While still in Denver, he spent the next few months making a cut, then came to the realization that he needed a fresh eye. The production team posted an ad on 2-pop.com and searched for the perfect edit. Almost immediately they found her.
NENA SILVERSTONE joined the team after finishing the highly acclaimed Disney film WHISPERS. Silverstone’s skill and talent was a perfect fit. Countless hours were spent in Nena’s office with Topher often having to spend the night on Nena’s couch. The ‘Extra’ team worked hard throughout the production to make sure that not only did we capture the most typical Hollywood experience, but at the same time look into the lives of those who chose to make this their struggle every day.
DIRECTORS STATEMENT by TOPHER STRAUS
EXTRA is not only a film that needed to be made, but also one that needs to be seen. This is
a real look at Hollywood, a fresh look at the reality of dashed hopes and disillusionment.
Two years ago, after graduation from college, I was down on my luck. Like the thousands of young adults fresh out of school, I had the typical illusion that we would make it overnight; that we were the special one, that we were blessed. Personally, I got this notion of Hollywood from the way that the entertainment industry portrays herself: all glamour and no guts. With in a few weeks I came to realization that Hollywood is a rough place; a crap shoots if you will. I needed money and I needed free time to develop my childhood dream of making moves. My friends all suggested that I do extra work. Before I knew it I was working seven days a week, driving all over the LA wasteland – and for what? To be a blur? To be “atmosphere”? Day in and day out I was humiliated and robbed of my pride. Why and how did I press on for six months straight?
EXTRA is the portrayal of what I consider a true Hollywood experience. The notion that movie production is not glamorous, but rather a constant struggle by those believing that they to can become a star. The deeper that I explored this world, the more fascinated I became with the variety of characters and motivations that make up this sub-culture. We interviewed everyone from those straight off the bus to those who have chosen to make this their life long profession; those who would be considered the young and the beautiful just hoping to get noticed, to those with such extreme personalities and looks that you can’t help but notice and wonder. It was a quilt of characters that any filmmaker would not pass up.
My producer Katie and I decided we were going to shoot this documentary, not knowing what struggles, defeats and victories might be bestowed upon us. It was this very journey that made the film complete. As a director I learned a tremendous amount from the experience; both about technique and people in general. In fact, it was Coop and Michael (the Co-Producers) that constantly pushed the movie into the direction of capturing the human elements of being an extra. The more I became involved in the Extra’s lives, the more I understood my mission and its importance. Background Artists are considered lower then the underbelly of Hollywood, yet they are a very important component to creating an image. You can’t have a movie with out them. Nena (the editor) and I set out to find the balance between all the importance of the job and all the insanity.
During the filming, there were times when I was afraid, times when I cried behind my lens, and times I just wanted to go snowboarding. It was because of the incredible people that I surrounded myself with that this film is successful; because of the injustice and lack of respect that documentary was created to combat.